Casino owners urge rethink on club crackdown

Casino owners are set to meet Justice Minister Michael McDowell in a bid to convince him not to close down all gaming clubs.

Minister McDowell announced plans last week for a massive crackdown on casinos, which he says are illegal.

He said the clubs are sidestepping the law by operating under the guise of private members‘ clubs.

„Casinos are illegal in Ireland,“ he said. „I’m going to close them all down, by using the law or amending the law if necessary.“

Casino owners, including billionaire tycoon Dermot Desmond, were shocked by the Minister’s comments and are now joining together in an effort to save their business.

A number of clubs are in the process of establishing an umbrella organisation for casinos with a view to making their case to the Minister.

One of these is Ireland’s biggest casino, the Fitzwilliam Card Club in Dublin. The Fitzwilliam’s financial controller David Hickman said the group will ask Mr McDowell to regulate the industry instead of introducing a complete ban. Mr Hickman said a complete closure would result in driving the industry underground.

He said: „Casino owners want to see a strict set of rules and regulations introduced, which would benefit everyone. We would like to state our case to the Minister.

„The lack of regularisation is a matter of concern to our organisation. We would like to see licences introduced. But closing all casinos would just lead to an underground situation which would be dangerous,“ he added.

A spokesman for the Justice Minister said he would consider meeting casino owners, as soon as an officialrequest is received.

Minister McDowell made his comments when asked about the report of the Financial Action Task Force, which stated that casinos create a money-laundering risk.

Mr Hickson said there are two very different types of casino in Ireland and that they should not all be tarred with the same brush.

„There are a small number of seedy, rundown casinos which would have an involvement in money-laundering. And then there are the reputable, respectable clubs likeourselves.

„We are a private club and have all members‘ details on file. If there was a situation where one member was laying down huge amounts of money, we would record that activity and inform the authorities,“ he said.

Although there are only an estimated 25 casinos in Ireland, the gaming industry is estimated to be worth up to €300m.

Dermot Desmond is one the main players, financing the €5.5m Sporting Emporium off Dublin’s Grafton Street, which opened last October. Casinos are illegal under the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act, which bans the type of gaming carried out on the premises.

However, a loophole in the law means premises can operate as private members‘ clubs.

Licensing barrister Constance Cassidy said during the week that the Minister is within his rights to force their closure. She said many of the casinos cannot be regarded as private members‘ clubs as they operate on a profit basis.